Garlic Shrimp And Slovenian Timelords, With Ray Ratto

Over the past week, I’ve found it difficult to tell whether I’m excited for the NBA Finals or just kind of bored without basketball to watch. I have found other ways to occupy my time—I can’t say enough good things about the movies in the Synth Soundtracks selection on the Criterion Channel—but also it hasn’t been easy. You get used to the rhythm of the playoffs, which are constant and go on for a very long time, and then suddenly it’s regular-season baseball, trying to figure out what channel WNBA games are on, and Costa-Gavras’s searing 1982 social thriller Missing.

We all get by as best we can in these troubled times, but in talking with this week’s guest Ray Ratto I realized that I had done it all wrong. While I was white-knuckling it and trying to get by on little more than my affection for Tangerine Dream soundtracks and my signature unwillingness to go to bed at a normal hour, Ray was cruising around Spain and Portugal with his wife and eating inadvisable numbers of egg tarts. Another savvy veteran play from one of the best in the business. And while we had Ray on the podcast to talk about the NBA Finals—and the WNBA, and gambling, and basketball officiating—I wanted to make sure that we didn’t skimp on the Portugal stuff. I, and really all of us, have much to learn, there.

But once we dispensed with our celebration of Portugal’s peculiarities and regional pastries, and discussed Ray’s recent turn away from scuzzy ballwriter bars and towards European travel, and I guess also broke down Drew’s ball-dominant approach to karaoke, it was time for NBA Finals chat. It’s an interesting match-up—interesting enough to make me delay my rewatch of Michael Mann’s Thief for at least a day—and there’s a lot to talk about. And while we did talk about pretty much all of it, we got there in a fairly roundabout way. An appraisal of Kyrie Irving and the unique separating-art-from-the-artist challenge that he poses began with Ray comparing him to Phil Spector. A discussion of the Mavericks’ somehow simultaneously balanced and top-heavy roster thankfully avoided similar comparisons, but my celebration of Luka Doncic’s masterful Little Stinker routine segued into the beginning (but not the end) of Ray’s thoughts on officiating, a topic that is right up there with British Comedy and Canadian Anything in the pantheon of Things That Get Ray Going. Our conversation on the Celtics began with our producer Eric Silver’s Celtics Anxiety Minute and expanded into an ultimately quest to figure out how good this team—which was the best team in the league all year long and has cooly gone 12-2 in the playoffs so far—actually is. Everyone agreed that Derrick White is kind of neat, which is nice.

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The pace picks up on the other side of the break. We spun through the ongoing Caitlin Clark discourse disaster, which mostly wound up being about what it revealed regarding the baseline insanity level of mainstream sports discourse. We also talked about the Washington Post‘s scuzzy new Murdoch-pedigreed CEO, and while we weren’t able to keep up with the pace of his queasy ‘n’ reckless move-making, this segment delivers all the appalling accent work our listenership deserves, as well as a sort of anti-celebration of the new alpha all-hands move of bosses going into newsrooms and insulting everyone willy-nilly. Finally, we returned to Ray’s Officiating Corner, where he defended Joey Crawford’s work and personality, laid out his theory of what officials are supposed to do and why they are not currently doing it, and got into what he would do to fix what everyone agrees is a low-intensity crisis of wackness on the part of the league’s officiating corps. The phrase “refereeing is an art” is deployed here, and it is a testament to how much Ray knows and cares about this and how good he is at doing radio stuff that I was nodding along the whole time.

This left just some time for the Funbag, although in a neat metatextual twist some of that time was devoted to Drew answering a listener question about why there is such limited time for the Funbag. A question about surfing a fully loaded shopping cart across a smooth parking lot led to some mild debate, some delightful mental imagery, and a three-part harmony of curmudgeonhood about what drugstores are like these days. And that, give or take Ray’s heartfelt endorsement of finding an actual IRL bookie instead of app-based gambling, was that. Of all the hours I’d spent waiting for the Finals to start, this one went by quicker than most. Although I really did think Missing was pretty good.

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